Friday, November 27, 2009

Who Decides?

I was driving today and listening to NPR. I guess because it's a pseudo-holiday, one of the shows was a rebroadcast of a discussion with Professor Michael Sandel, a political philosopher at Harvard. He was talking about justice, morality and philosophy, and how those concepts apply to everyday political issues. He said one thing that I thought illustrates the striking difference between how left & right perceive the world, and particularly the difference between those who advocate collectivism, versus those who prefer individual freedom. I don't have a transcript so this is a paraphrase, but he said something like the following.

Let's look at judges. How much does the Chief Justice of the U.S. make, a couple hundred thousand a year? But there is a judge that makes $25 million a year: Judge Judy. Is it just that she makes so much more than the chief justice? Could you reasonably argue that she deserves that far greater amount? I don't think so.

When I heard that I thought, what a typical leftist comment. Who are you to decide whether one person deserves more money than the other? It has nothing to do with justice. People like this professor don't like the free market. They think they are better equipped to decide who gets what. This is how wealth redistribution is justified. They don't think it's fair that person X makes more money than person Y. Therefore, they will take money from person X by force, and give it to person Y.  And what if you don't like this, or disagree with their opinion about what is "just"? Well, that's too bad. If you get in their way or resist, they'll throw you in jail. They don't like freedom at all. They deny this, and attempt to get around it by redefining freedom to mean getting things you need. They'll say things like "you aren't free if you don't have enough to eat, or you don't have adequate health care." But by that definition it's better to be a well-fed, well-taken care of slave, than a free person who struggles to get by.

Any time you hear someone talking about  how things aren't fair or just, and how some people don't deserve to make more money than others, ask yourself this. Who decides what is fair and just? And why is the opinon of those who think they should decide more important than freedom?


  1. One of the Southern justifications for slavery in the 19th century was that slaves were materially better off than northern factory workers who worked and lived in terrible conditions. This was often true, especially for slaves with benevolent owners. But the slaves were still slaves, and the northern factory workers were not. Interesting how a pro-slavery argument can parallel a pro-socialism argument.

  2. I think that there is a space, in between, this freedom of individual and "being taken care of" as you put it, a space that needs to be thought out. For me, the proverbial question, at least here as it concerns your present post, it comes down to the purpose of society.

    Why do they initially form? Why do families, and people(s) come-together?

    They used to think it was war. Protection (but that is only one reason that seems to be after the fact of civil formations). The research who pursued this line of anthropological historical thought, I forget his name but you can easily look this up... Okay, back to the point,this man who built his career that civilizations and societies form because of threats of war and the wild of nature is untrue. His explorations into the past turned out that it was social cooperation for mutual advantage. At least he was the sort of academic who embraced contrary news.

    So,social cooperation makes labor and life more bearable, lights the load, and it is at once both selfish and social.

    But if you have no choice, but the choice between starvation and homelessness or labor (not work, because you do not own what you produce, rather a compensated [re-charged, re-fueled] with paper tokens, or currency issued by the State, not much different from a script). We live in an age, as it was in the past, an age when corporation do not care about the people or the locations they sustain economically, because the owner do not live there. What do they care if they pollute your town! Don't be ungrateful, didn't you want a job? It was your choice.

    So, it is not only because of government, but also a disconnect between profit and place, profit and labor. Sandel is not incorrect when he says that you can not be free if the choices of freedom are set between work and starvation, and what complicates that fact is the normal rate of unemployment built into the most free of free market economic models. Look at it this way, if you pursue efficiency you need less workers. If you unemployed then you need to invent new jobs, or just deal with the fact we have more people then we need and more stuff then we know what to do with. Perhaps the first step is to stop being used by not only our governments, but our employers, and start reconnecting with our communities, to start acting for peoples interests above all else.

  3. Aglaeca,

    I'm not saying that absolute freedom is always necessarily a good thing, or that we don't voluntarily give up certain freedoms to obtain other benefits. But I object to the pretense or assertion that doing so is justice, fairness, or freedom itself.

    Freedom has prices. In a purely free market with no government involvement, and no safety nets of any kind, if you are unable to produce or obtain enough wealth to feed yourself, you starve -- unless you can survive on charity. If you can't pay for health care,or find someone to help you, you die. It doesn't mean you aren't free. That is the price of an absolute free market in goods and services -- some can't compete, for whatever reason, and will starve or otherwise die.

    By having a government -- any government, we take certain choices away from individuals, and we reduce freedom. It may be to our benefit in certain cases, but it is still a reduction in freedom. In addition, many government actions reduce the freedom of some, in order to benefit others.

    In some cases this is arguably beneficial to society, but we should be honest that we are limiting freedom. And I am inherently skeptical of those who presume to decide that we should reduce the freedom of some, in order to benefit others, while labeling it "justice" or "fairness."